The promising career of America's tallest collegiate basketball player, the University of North Carolina's 7-foot-7-inch Kenny George, was stopped dead in its tracks.

In late September, the 22-year-old George had surgery to partially amputate one of his feet. The reason, according to the Associated Press, the player had contracted an antibiotic-resistant staph infection.

But the threat of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA, is hitting home in Hesperia, too.

"We continue to have new cases here and there," said Peggy Lindsay, RN, a nurse with the Hesperia Unified School District. "My greatest worry is for the ones I don't know about."

Lindsay says that school district nurses are closely monitoring roughly 20 cases.

"We're starting to keep track, and they're not rare any more."

Like the goliath UNC basketball player, school district athletes are especially at risk. As a result, a school district nurse has begun visiting local high schools to teach an MRSA-avoidance class to groups of athletes.

Wrestlers, because of their skin-to-skin contact, are highest on the at-risk list. But as the University of Southern California football players learned, other athletes can also come down with MRSA. In 2002, the Trojans had two athletes go to the hospital for MRSA. In 2003, USC has 11 confirmed and six suspected cases.

Athletes were the first to come down with MRSA locally, too, according to Lindsay. Then it began spreading.

"Then we started seeing it in every school, every grade."

She also said the number of cases appeared to increase after prisons opened in the Victor Valley.

"If they (former inmates) got it in prison, they bring it home."

Working with Sean O'Grady, an infection control nurse at St. Mary Medical Center, the district has begun educating its 20,000 students. Several weeks ago, the district sent out English and Spanish versions of "A Parent's Guide to MRSA."

The guide describes MRSA and what it looks like:
Sores that look like spider bites
Red painful bumps under the skin
A cut that is swollen and hot
Blisters filled with fluid
Red, warm, firm skin area that is painful and getting larger

"You've got to presume you've got MRSA unless it's proven otherwise," Lindsay said.

The guide also explains that a staph infection is spread either by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or from a surface that has staph that came from someone's infection.

Treatment varies. Some sores can be drained by a doctor. Infections that are non-resistant to antibiotics may be treated with medication.

Most importantly, if a parent believes her child is infected, they should call a doctor immediately. Generally a child with a MRSA infection can attend school as long as the infected area is not draining and can be covered by a bandage.

Hand washing is the best way to prevent MRSA and other staph infections.

Not surprisingly, Lindsay believes that informing the public is a top priority.

"We're in the education industry. It's time we let people know what's out there and how to take care of themselves."

If people don't learn how to identify, treat and prevent MRSA, the results could be devastating.

"My fear is that someone's going to get this that doesn't survive this."